Meat Loaf

Bat Out Of Hell (Epic ’77) Rating: A-
A kitschy classic. Larger than life, this totally over the top album was many a teenager’s soundtrack throughout the late ‘70s, and it's still an extremely fun listen. From Todd Rundgren’s brilliantly bombastic production to Meat Loaf’s operatic vocal flourishes, the album has all the subtlety of an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon and is all the better for it. Hardly the prototype rocker, the hefty singer first made a name for himself singing for Ted Nugent and then appearing in the cult movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This album’s surprising success was a tribute to the earnest energy of the performances, and lyrics (supplied by Jim Steinman, who also wrote all the music and plays keyboards) that spoke directly to the teen set, capturing the awkwardness and excitement of that age. The title track, an epic in every sense of the word, starts the album with the most theatrical song on a ridiculously theatrical album (the song was inspired by Steinman's desire to write the most extreme crash song of all time). Take a Broadway show tune, add some pseudo metallic guitar (courtesy of Rundgren), and put it all within a Wall Of Sound production a la Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run (fittingly, E. Streeters Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg play on the album along with members of Rundgren's band Utopia and others), and that's "Bat Out Of Hell" in a nutshell. Actually, the song is almost proggy in its multi-sectioned ambition (long instrumental intro, ballady in parts, relentlessly rocking at other times), while its breathless rush of words also recalls early Bruce, and its "anything goes" attitude was what punk was supposed to be embracing at the time (ironic given that this album is about as unpunk as you can get). Anyway, Steinman's action packed music and Rundgren's densely layered, elaborate arrangements ensure that the song's 10 minutes go by all too quickly, but like every song here it's the sheer force of the singer's personality that leaves the biggest (pardon the pun) impression (Rundgren's motorcycle effects played on guitar are also cool). "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)" begins with an admittedly cheesy intro (but if you're allergic to cheese then stay away from this album!), but hey I like it anyway, and besides some pretty piano and a catchy chorus makes this another song that's easy to like. Plus, it's one of several songs with agreeably airy male/female backing vocals (primarily Rory Dodd/Ellen Foley) and a frenetic finish. "Heaven Can Wait" is one of three piano ballads, and though its sensitive, schmaltzy melody may make you think of other soft rockers such as The Carpenters (but hey, I like The Carpenters), it's still mighty pretty, and that Meat Loaf sure can sing. Besides, the sax-led (supplied by Edgar Winter) "All Revved Up With No Place To Go" returns the album to party mode, being a catchy r&b-based rocker that's perfect for Saturday night, while "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," which is something of a "lite FM" standard, is another fine example of Steinman's storytelling skills, despite at-times corny lyrics that are again easy to overlook due to Meat's affecting vocal, a tuneful melody, and Steinman's liberal use of humor. Which brings us to "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," the song that Meat Loaf is best known for, and a love it or hate it proposition to most people; me, I love it. Sure, this song (inspired by Steinman's desire to write the ultimate sex in car song) is ridiculously overblown and not just a little tongue in cheek, but this epic is perhaps the ultimate song about being young, horny, and impetuous. Besides, the cameo by Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto was a brilliant idea, Ellen Foley steals the show with one of the greatest guest vocals ever (p.s. it was Karla DeVito, not Foley, who appeared in the video and who went on tour with Meat Loaf), and an excellent extended fadeout seals the deal. After "Dashboard" comes the third piano ballad, "For Crying Out Loud." Starting slowly and quietly but eventually becoming as bloated and bombastic as all the other tunes, this long song is once again more than salvaged by Meat Loaf's (melo)dramatic vocal delivery. In summary, dismiss these campy, colorful, long-winded extravaganzas at your own peril, for in my opinion this album truly is a "guilty pleasure" if ever there was one, only I don't feel guilty at all for liking it so much. So what if this "pretentious" album has long been a target of rock critics, it sold in the mega-millions anyway, is fondly remembered by many, and is still a firm favorite of classic rock radio. Though somewhat dated (it fairly reeks of ‘70s excess), the album oozes a reckless spirit of adventure and lust that epitomizes teenage dramas. So what if it's seriously flawed, this album is still a fun, good time listen, stuffy critics be damned. Raise your hand if you've ever shouted “stop right there!” - you know what I mean.

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